“On May 1, 1969, Fred Rogers, host of the (then) recently nationally syndicated children’s television series, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood (named Misterogers’ Neighborhood at the time), testified before the Senate Committee on Commerce Subcommittee on Communications to defend $20 million in federal funding proposed for the newly formed non-profit Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which was at risk of being reduced to $10 million. The subcommittee chairman, Senator John Pastore (D-RI), unfamiliar with Fred Rogers, is initially abrasive toward him. Over the course of Rogers’ 6 minutes of testimony, Pastore’s demeanor gradually transitions to one of awe and admiration as Rogers speaks. Eventually, Pastore is won over, and the CPB is awarded its full funding.” – Daniel Deibler
The question is, how did he do it? I think there are six things that Mr. Rodgers does that makes this one of the best speeches I’ve ever seen:
- He speaks from a clear, logical set of points, centered around a simple argument – that public television can be used to enhance a child’s emotional life, not hinder it.
- He centers his speech around a story; how he created Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood – and that story has a very clear beginning, middle, and an end.
- He makes fantastic contrasts – he compares what $6000 dollars could do for television; pay for one hour of quality children’s programming or two minutes of violent cartoons.
- He knows his audience – the senator he is speaking to was an advocate for educational television, and Fred Rodgers makes mention of it in his speech.
- He makes piercing eye contact – effective nonverbal communication enhances your impression with your audience, and it all starts with the eyes.
- He just really knows his shit – he can quote statistics about arcane budgeting tasks, but also snippets of songs he worked on months ago.
Ultimately what makes this speech work is compassion. Fred Rodgers believed passionately in what he spoke about, so he had the energy and focus to do the hours of work necessary to put together this short speech. And that passion shows through in his every gesture, his every word. So, today, think about what you care about before you begin speaking, and remember, if you keep in mind that every speech is an opportunity, you too can change the world.
The short answer is yes, but how you do it is very, very important. If you make your product the primary focus of your speech, or Q and A, you will bore the audience, or worse, annoy them. Nobody comes to a major conference like TED to hear a product pitch. People come to hear new ideas. You must be able to craft a dynamic, purposeful, wildly creative premise to your speech first, and then strategically weave mentions of your product into the speech as you develop your material.
Take Elon Musk’s brilliant TED Q and A. The premise of his talk is really the nature of innovation, but he manages to use his three current companies, Tesla, SpaceX, and Solar City, as examples. It never really appears that he is promoting his companies, because his first loyalty is to his premise (the nature of innovation). As long as you prioritize your premise and keep it innovative, inclusive, and not sales oriented, then, ironically perhaps, it is safe to do a little selling.
Most of the pundits have weighed in on the political ramifications of Donald Trump’s State of the Union address last night, but what of his public speaking craft? To be blunt, I think he does some things well, but many things poorly. Let’s break it down.
To start with, he is clearly reading off of two teleprompters. This is not a problem if you are able to coin phrases in a conversational manner, and you are very familiar with your material. Mr. Trump does neither well here. He seems unfamiliar with the language he is using, and he makes very little eye contact with the television audience or his constituents. It’s very important to be familiar with your material, and to lift your eyes off of the page, in order to make a personal connection to your audience.
As a result of this lack of familiarity with his material, Mr. Trump’s delivery is uncharacteristically tentative. When he is speaking off-the-cuff, he has some vocal variety, and punch to his language. But his voice fades when he is working with an outline, and he becomes quite monotone.
What he does well here has nothing to do with his delivery, but with his speechcraft. He utilizes personal stories well, highlighting numerous stories about heroic everyday Americans. But non-verbal communication trumps material (no pun intended), and the president’s poor delivery undermines his message.
It is completely natural to feel anxious before you speak. Why would you feel relaxed!? It can be nerve-racking to speak in front of people. We get in trouble when we fight our anxiety rather than accept it. Here are a few tips to help you control your public speaking tension:
- Develop a routine of doing some progressive relaxation each day. Take a few moments each day to close your eyes, and scan through your body noticing physical tension. Just notice. Start at your scalp and move to your toes. You may find simply bringing attention in a non-judgemental way to your physical tension helps relieve it.
- Try to reframe your anxiety rather than eliminate it. Anxiety cannot be forced away, but if we accept it is happening, we can redirect it. As anxious feelings arise, try telling yourself “I feel scared, but also excited. This is an opportunity to work on presenting.” The more you can label your fear as excitement, the better off you will be.
- If you are speaking to a large audience, see the trees for the forest! By this, I mean learn to speak to one person in the crowd at a time. This may help you to see the audience as individuals, rather than a large group, and lessen your stress.
- Consider using an icebreaker. A good icebreaker could be an interesting question, an informal poll, a well-timed joke, or a short story.
- Make small talk with your audience before you speak – idle chit-chat is a wonderful speaking tool. If your audience is small, shake hands with some folks, and ask some meaningful questions before you present. Getting to know the audience personally will turn your SPEECH into a DISCUSSION. A discussion is infinitely more relaxing than a speech.
- Slow your rate of speech down, especially at the top of the speech. Take plenty of time to breathe, and clarify your thoughts.
- Prepare thoroughly! If you know your audience and your subject inside and out, you will feel much more relaxed about presenting! Bear in mind, it’s ok to have notes in front of you as you speak.